Since my World of Warcraft guild has gone on summer vacation and my own appetite for the game has been dwindling for months, I’ve decided to waste my time with some Playstation 2 games I bought years ago but never got around to playing.
More specifically, I’ve started playing Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4; a game that combines elements of game play with the inventiveness of a late night drunk munching on cookie dough ice cream and flaming hot Cheetos while washing it all down with Wild Turkey.
Persona 4 is a JRPG, and features the traditional RPG story line, turn-based battle system and the constant, ocd conversations with random townsfolk. However, the game designers decided the ol RPG formula needed some monster ranching and dating sim in the mix. It turns out, the cocktail goes down pretty smoothly.
The story revolves around the protagonist; a high-school transfer student who has moved from the big city to a rural town due to family issues. Of course, as soon as he shows up things start happening, such as people disappearing and ending up hanging from telephone poles and television antennas. The protagonist and his new friends get involved when an acquaintance ends up dead and one of their own is discovered to be next on the chopping block, trapped in The Midnight Channel; a weird television world where not so pleasant sides of people’s personality manifest and kill their former host.
Game play is split up into different sections. During the day, the player attends school and has the opportunity to socialize with friends or join various extra-curricular activities. After school, the player can bum around town, or visit the Midnight Channel to toughen up and look for people trapped inside.
Battles in T.V. land are fought in a turn-based environment, with the player attacking the enemy themselves or calling upon personas, the monster equivelent of the brave face people put on the face the challenges in life. These personas learn a variety of physical and magical attacks, can heal or protect, gain levels and can be combined to make new monsters. Many have a specific elemental characteristic, as well as weakness. The main character can use many, but supporting characters have one special persona specific to them for the rest of the game.
Most of the battles center around finding a monster’s weakness and then exploiting it; knocking down monsters and earning an extra turn. The monsters can also do this to you, as “equipped” personas also have their own elemental or physical weakness.
The strength of the personas is based upon their level, and the strength of the relationships the main character has with friends and classmates with “arcana” corresponding to the persona’s “arcana” (it somewhat follows tarot cards types). The higher the level of relationships with a person of a certain “arcana”, the higher the level of the persona of the same “arcana”. Hanging out with friends and keeping up your repertoire with them is essential to succeeding in battle.
The Persona games are, at their heart, a JRPG, which means they can be a bit frustrating. Lots of time is spent doing the social stuff, grinding levels to avoid being massacred by monsters 2 floor up and combining persona. The dungeons are tough, and you must make a certain amount of progress in each level before you can come back to where you left off, otherwise you get to start off on the first level of whatever dungeon you left prematurely. Resources are pretty scarce, and battles can be very hard, especially if you haven’t spent enough time leveling. The monsters can also be cheap, and getting jacked because a monster found your persona’s weakness (which ends up being your weakness) before you knew it could use a certain spell or ability.
Overall, the stories are pretty interesting, as are the characters. They’re nothing you’ve never seen before, if you’ve played a single RPG, but the game is done well. I also enjoy the Japaneseness (tee-hee) of the game, and players can learn a lot about Japanese culture from the Persona series.